Mexicans honor their dead relatives and friends during Dia de Muertos by visiting cemeteries, spending time with the souls of the departed and giving them offerings and saying prayers to them.
My mom was a Spanish teacher, and she loved teaching her students about Day of the Dead this time of year, so I grew up hearing all about it. I was captivated by the idea of hanging out in the cemetery to celebrate the deceased, since it’s so different from the way we treat that sort of thing here.
It was with this lovely tradition in mind that I visited Pine Ridge Cemetery this Halloween season to learn about some of the fascinating history of Saranac Lake and connect with the many people who built it. History is always interesting to me, but I always find it to have more of an impact when I’m reminded that the characters of the stories were actually real people.
I visited with a group of local fifth-grade students, who each researched a person buried there, and Amy Catania, executive director of Historic Saranac Lake. I thought it was so cool that they were taking time out from their normal schedules to honor the people who built this community.
The best place to start at Pine Ridge is with the Moodys. That’s because the cemetery started as their farm.
Jacob Smith Moody and his family moved to Saranac Lake in 1819, Saranac Lake’s first settlers. He was a farmer, a trapper, and a guide who moved to the area from New Hampshire, living first in Keene, then aquiring 160 acres in what is now known as Saranac Lake. He built a home for his family, which included seven children, at the corner of what is now Pine Street and Brandy Brook Avenue. He served in the state militia for five days in the War of 1812, and he played the fife in the Battle of Plattsburgh in 1814.
Jacob's wife, Sally Brown Moody, was the first family member known to be buried on their farm after she died in 1852. He remarried three years later, but he joined Sally eight years after that; he was buried next to her.
Cortis Moody was the first child born to settlers of Saranac Lake, and he was also buried in the family plot when he died in 1902. In total, there are 112 Moodys with gravestones in the Pine Ridge Cemetery.
There's a good number of other people buried in the "Moody" section of the cemetery, including wealthy land speculator Milo Bushnell Miller; the man who built the first hotel on Lower Saranac Lake, William F. Martin; and Mary Ann Reynolds, who died at 8 in 1843 and has the honor of being in the earliest marked grave in the cemetery.
Julia Baker Miller, one of the about 62 other Millers besides Milo buried at Pine Ridge, was the first woman superintendent of the Trudeau Sanitorium. After her husband Ensine's death, Julia ended up the owner of a hop farm that covered the side of Mount Pisgah that she subdivided and donated half the land to the village. That land now makes up nine village streets, including Marshall, Catherine, Margaret and Baker streets, all named for her family members.
Outdoor recreation has always been a huge reason people have visited and moved to Saranac Lake, because there are so many cool things to do here outside! But the thing that had the greatest impact on the founding of the village was tuberculosis.
E.L. Trudeau moved here to die in peace of tuberculosis, but instead he got better each time he traveled here from the city. So he decided to help cure others of the tuberculosis by building a sanitorium here and bringing people from the city to "take the cure" in the fresh air of the Adirondacks. People arrived in droves, and found a welcoming community after being shunned for having the disease in other places.
Historic Saranac Lake, with Amy at the helm, runs the Saranac Laboratory Museum at Trudeau's old lab, where people can learn about the research Trudeau did on TB.
There are tons of graves at the cemetery for people who died from TB, but Amy said historians believe there are also hundreds of unmarked graves from TB victims as well. And because Saranac Lake was supposed to cure TB, it wasn't good for business to let people know how many people were dying of it, so many of the bodies were hidden at the train station before they were shipped home to be buried.
Adelaide Crapsey was an emerging poet when she succumbed to TB. Though she was not buried at Pine Ridge, she spent much of her time curing in Saranac Lake at a cottage that overlooks the cemetery, and she wrote a poem about it.
There's a whole section of Norwegian sailors who were at sea when the Nazis invaded Norway, so they had to come to Saranac Lake to cure rather than go home to Europe. (The fifth-graders were excited when they found a grave there for a guy named Olaf, presumably because of the character from the animated movie "Frozen" with the same name.) Some of the men married and stayed in Saranac Lake for decades, while some died earlier.
Many of the doctors who helped patients with TB also contracted it themselves, and many of them are buried in Pine Ridge as well.
Other points of interest
There's tons more to see at Pine Ridge and so many other stories to tell. Here are just a few:
Pine Ridge also has a Hebrew Memorial Cemetery section. There, as part of the Hebrew tradition, visitors pick up a rock with their left hand and place it on the grave they are visiting, to let others know someone has visited and the person buried there has been remembered. One particular gravestone, for a couple who lived here, includes a memorial to a long list of their family members, ages ranging from 9 to 90, who died in the Holocaust.
A family of runaway slaves that arrived on in the area after taking advantage of the local spur of the Underground Railroad and remained to farm in Bloomingdale also has a gravestone in the cemetery.
There are also plenty of gravestones that aren't readable anymore, or that are hidden under bushes or trees, or whose stories are not known. All are worth a visit.
Even though this is a great time of year to be thinking about history and those who tread these grounds before us, history is cool all year round in Saranac Lake. Historic Saranac Lake runs historic tours throughout the year, including tours of downtown, the village's cure cottages, and the Trudeau Sanitorium. Keep an eye on our events page to find out about upcoming tours.
This week we dig up some ghostly Adirondack tales: